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FOLLOWING HIM FAR AND NEAR

by Kevin Brown, Pastor, The Perfecting Church

As we prepare for our sixth trip to the West Bank in October, I’m sure some are still wondering why we would continue to invest time and resources to go work on someone else’s problems.  We have plenty of problems right here in our own communities!  Truth be told I fought through the same thoughts as I sat in my West Bank hotel room 37 months ago sensing God’s call to “become the help” in that part of the world  Quite a few people suggested, “you should go later”, “you’re such a young church”, “you don’t even have a building.”  But those thoughts were like the ones the disciples had when the woman poured the expensive oil on Jesus, washing His feet with her hair.  Who are we to determine which need in the world is greater?  The priority and timing as well as our time and resources are His.

I remember one person who was encouraging us to follow God.  It was the same person who had brought me on the trip and introduced me to people he knew in that part of the world.  In fact The Perfecting Church had a shining example of what a group of disciples could do in a hard part of the world.  Northwood and my Pastor Bob Roberts had been doing this for decades.  They had been and still are a key part of transforming Vietnam, among others, a place that was once totally closed to Christian efforts.  However by giving their time and talents to meet unmet needs they found themselves welcome in Vietnam.  Through its small, consistent, acts of service NorthWood was ultimately invited to be a part of the process of change in that part of the world. Teachers and educators from their church ultimately wrote and helped implement the curriculum for special education that’s now used throughout Vietnam.

I’ve read Acts 1:8 and even preached and taught from it many times.  I’ve always seen this text as the foundation of the early church.  My focus in these passages had always been the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the church.  I had never given much thought to the charge Jesus was giving His soon to be formed church — “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  They understood it though and from its inception the church has always been glocal (existing locally and globally).  The apostles traveled to the uttermost parts of the world, preaching and living out the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  My thought had always been someone else will go — that’s not my call.  God’s thought for us has always been, “You go.”  I’m not saying every person must go (although I can’t see why they wouldn’t) but I am saying every local church should be going.  Jesus didn’t tell them when you get everything up and running go.  When you get established go.  When you have buildings with steeples go.  It was clear that His vision for the church was for it to exist and reach beyond its local address.  This changed me and it changed The Perfecting Church.  My entire picture of the church, its role and function, were all based on my local experience and trying to make “our little familiar world better”.  Jesus knew how weak, judgmental and limited a gathering of disciples focused only locally and on themselves would become.  We’re all missionaries because this earth is not our home.  Getting out of our familiar context to serve others supernaturally plants this truth deep in our hearts.

The “ends of the earth” represents “other countries”.  Many of us send money abroad.  We may even support a local missionary effort.  Some of us may even have missionaries in our local church.  But Jesus told His disciples to be the witnesses to the ends of the earth or “other countries”.  I have learned personally that obeying this command develops a Kingdom mentality in the one who obeys.  It brings about a new found sensitivity to the fact that Jesus loves and died for all nations.  It delivers us from thinking that those of us in the USA are the “end all-be all” and everyone must think like us.  Being a witness in “other countries” puts a demand on our relationship with Christ that is entirely transforming.  They don’t speak the same language.  They don’t think the same way.  They don’t live the same way. They don’t do things the way we think they should be done.  This total lack of familiarity creates the need for a child-like dependence on God that is life changing.

This idea of using our gifts, talents, time and passions to reach out beyond ourselves has become the DNA and culture of our church.  What others had warned was happening too early actually saved us from it being too late.  Most of our churches today get so busy constructing and sustaining internal programs they never make it out of the four-walls to actually impact their cities and the world.  We learned it’s not about how many we can jam into a building, but how many we can love like Jesus.

Engaging globally has informed our work here locally.  This week alone members of our church will be working with unwed mothers who need help in learning effective child care methods and in becoming self-sustaining adults; women who have suffered from depression or cared for someone who has are conducting a workshop in town with other women who are facing the same thing; our church band will be hosting the finale of its 28-week free music program, which has taught percussion, basic music theory, harmony and melody.  Being the church instead of just going to church has literally begun somewhat of a movement here in our region.  It’s amazing how attractive the life of Jesus becomes when we live it out beyond the Sunday gathering.  We still don’t have a building!  But our nearly 1,300 members and the Mayor in our neighboring town would like us to get one.  He wants to make sure we don’t leave and we feel we simply need a place to plan and pray for the next time we go.

The Power of Working with College Students, Locally and Globally

by Mitch Jolly, Pastor of Three Rivers Community Church, Rome, Georgia

Guest Blogger

One of my first memories of Bob Roberts and Northwood Church was a conference I was attending while a graduate student in Fort Worth. Bob told us about the local and the global and how they are not separate realities but that the local and the global are connected and that it’s not the professional ministry people who will be key in getting the work done, but the key would be those who engage their domains of society as agents of God’s kingdom. As a student I wanted to be one who engaged my domain of society, mobilized others to do the same and equip them for the work. I was a student being infected with the DNA of the kingdom at Northwood. It was not long until Bob and Northwood accepted me into the church-planting program and the infusion of the Northwood DNA began, and that DNA would be transferred to students like me all the way in Rome, Georgia.

As a graduate student Northwood was catching me at a prime time for harnessing one of God’s greatest seasons of life.

College students have long been catalysts for local and global good. Dwight L. Moody saw the fruit of college students when in 1886 his series of meetings led to one hundred college students pledging themselves to the local going global.[1] Numerous examples like this are scattered across history. Some of the best, however, are right under our noses in our colleges and tech schools.

Three Rivers Community Church is settled in Rome, Georgia. Rome has 3 colleges and a technical school. Students from all over the southeast and even a few Yankees find their way to Rome for higher education. Due to the DNA of our fellowship, we get the honor of shaping many college students’ values and infecting their spiritual DNA with the kingdom.

Without a doubt, the local and global work of the kingdom is impacted with these amazing people seeking to advance the kingdom of God.

Over 12 years we have sent countless college students on summer assignments from across town to West Africa to Nepal to South Asia to North Africa and a host of places in-between in spite of our focus on one particular place. As a side note, the more we focus on one place the more students are raised up to engage other places. It seems to be a trend, but that is for another post. 

Many students have tasted these summer adventures and decided to invest their lives in hard places, and some are currently still in those hard places bringing the healing power of the kingdom to bear in their domains of society.

We have watched our students spend summers sampling the world. Those students complete their degrees with a vision. Those students graduate and invest their lives all over the world building hospitals and teaching in schools doing some of the most incredible kingdom work imaginable. We are currently preparing to send one who graduates this May to our global work to be a teacher with a partner organization.

Students who have a global perspective also find their niche in the local domains of society as well. Just this past Sunday I had three young men who have been part of Three Rivers for several years volunteer their services in doing maintenance for a foster home we will be staffing and operating beginning this summer. These guys, as resident assistants in their dorms, pledged the dorms they oversee to the work as well. We have countless stories like these students engaging the local and global domains of society.

Perhaps our college students are our most ready human resource available.

What is it about college students that make them this powerful?

Here are some of my observations.

1. Principled Energy

I’ve been privileged to get to know an increasing number of students whose purpose was to give themselves to something they perceived to be more meaningful as opposed to a job that may net them more money but may also net them less joy.

Couple a principled end with the vigor that comes from being in one’s early twenty’s and the sky is the limit. These guys and gals need very little sleep, they heal fast, they need fewer resources to thrive and they are productive.

2. Oomph

I love the word Oomph. It is another way of saying “full of life”. College students are bubbling with life. They bring life to the party. College students bring joy where circumstances may have done a beat-down on some of us dudes getting weathered a bit. College students can bring Oomph to us pastors and our churches.

College students worship with more vigor. College students volunteer faster. College students are hungry to know God. These things lead to an infusion of life.

3. Flexible

College students are able to do just about anything at just about any time. Most of them are not married yet. Not all, but many have more financial resource that I’ve anticipated they would have. Many are learning the necessity of a value-laden degree not a debt-laden degree, and they are financially able to let go of trappings that can hinder their local and global service. This is a highly agile and mobile group of difference makers that can make a difference.

College students are still learning what singularly makes them passionate. So, they have many passions and they can flex to each one and be solid help in multiple domains.

4. Visionary Sacrifice

The college students involved in our work in Rome have been able to see to an end that they are not the center of, and they are willing to sacrifice the American Dream in order to have it. That kind of visionary sacrifice shows God to be bigger than other petty ends, and it inspires others to imitate their example.

What is the power of working with college students?

The past and the present tell us that this kind of principled energy, oomph, flexibility and sacrificial giving of oneself for a end higher than themselves not only achieves great kingdom gain, but it inspires others in the kingdom to do the same. College students are, arguably, the most powerful human force for good on the face of the planet. And this collegiate human force for good has historically been used by God to begin movements that have had ripple effects for decades. I’d call that powerful.